Friday, November 21, 2014

CBB: Ten teams to watch for



With the college basketball season here, there is a lot to be excited about. From the talented young freshman to the veteran leaders, this season is going to be a good one. With the release of the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, 10 of the top 15 schools in the poll stood out with the amazing talent and stacked rosters they all have, check out the previews for each team below.


5 teams to keep an eye on

Wichita State
Texas
Virginia
San Diego State
Villanova

10 teams that are consider contenders for the 2015 National Championship

Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats surprised everyone in the NCAA tournament last season making it the Final Four and going to the National Championship. Even with their lost against UCONN in the tourney, these Wildcats are once again preseason favorites to win the SEC and take home the National Championship. With a young freshman team and an inconsistent season in 2013-2014, the Wildcats weren't expected to make it past the Sweet 16. Calipari’s team is older, tournament tested and they bring in yet another strong freshman class. With the return of probable lottery choices Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats are the obvious favorites and open as the top ranked team in the preseason USA Coaches poll. The roles that Aaron and Andrew Harrison will have this season will be much bigger. Consistency was a major factor both twins lacked in and it cost Kentucky several games last season. Cauley-Stein on the other hand was out majority of the tourney last season with an ankle injury. Now healthy, Cauley-Stein could be coming off the bench this season but yet be expected to put up some impressive numbers. Kentucky's depth this season is beyond amazing. Dakari Johnson is slimmer and much more agile. The arrival of freshman Devin Booker gives Kentucky a rare pure shooter. Alex Poythress is considered to be UK's x-factor. He has the potential to be an impact player and his contributions could enhance the team. Although with so much depth, it could come as a bad thing. The sharing of minutes between players could cause a friction for John Calipari as he has to decide what players deserve the bulk of the minutes although he has gone on record to say that he will run 10 to 12 deep throughout the season. The Kentucky Wildcats are looking like a dangerous team in the SEC and serious Final Four contenders.

Arizona

The Arizona Wildcats were a top five team throughout most of the 2013-14 season and they did not disappoint. A winning streak of 21 games had Arizona at #1 for weeks straight until a loss to California and a foot injury suffered by forward Brandon Ashley shook up their season. Through adversity, the Wildcats managed to win the Pac-12 regular season conference title. They were poised for a strong NCAA tournament run, and they did. A loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight ended their season. Even though the dynamic duo of Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson left Arizona to declare for the draft, the expectations placed upon Arizona this season are much higher than last season. Placing #2 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Wildcats are favorites to win the Pac-12 again this season, become the Pac-12 tournament champions and make the 2015 Final Four. The return of Brandon Ashley makes those predictions seem realistic for this team. Brandon Ashley will garner lots of attention throughout the season and will have to step into a leadership role. Senior TJ McConnell will also be an important piece to Arizona's success this season. McConnell will have to step up and take the role of the floor general. Incoming freshman Stanley Johnson will look to be an impact player, as he will have the chance to fill the go-to guy position Gordon left. Arizona is a talented team with returnees Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Rumored to have the best starting five in the nation, the Arizona Wildcats will be a fun team to watch this season. 

Duke

With an embarrassing lost to Mercer in round 64 of the NCAA tourney and a lost in the conference tournament championship against Virginia in the 2013-14 season, these Blue Devils are out to redeem theirselves. Duke struggled in many areas last season that not even star player Jabari Parker could fix by himself. This season, things are changing. With the arrival of the #1 and #4 duo recruits of 2014, Duke is making up for what they lacked. Losing Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, two of the Blue Devil’s best scorers last season to the NBA draft meant that two big positions needed to be filled. Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow; the incoming freshmen, are just what Duke need. Okafor, a true center, gives Duke what they lacked in the big man department. Jones, a true point guard, will either take over or back up Quinn Cook. Quinn Cook, a senior, could lose playing time due to Jones arrival. Cook will still continue to be expected to put up big numbers and show leadership on and off the court due to being named captain. Another critical factor in Duke’s success this season will be the play of forward Amile Jefferson. Jefferson showed major potential last season when it came to stepping up and playing the big man role. Also being named captain, Jefferson will have the responsibility of providing leadership to a fairly young team, one of Coach K’s youngest ever. Jefferson is the most experienced and versatile big on the roster and his minutes may depend on if he can provide consistent interior defense. The Blue Devils X-factor and potential sixth man this season will be the junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Sulaimon is the main perimeter threat, even though he could be splitting time with Cook, he is expected as well to put up impressive numbers off the bench. Duke struggled last season to go small or athletic when the team needed a boost or bigger help in rebounding but with an elite combination at point guard and center with Jones and Okafor, Duke will be able to grab more steals and offensive/defensive rebounds. The Blue Devils probably can score with anyone in the country but they need to be more aggressive in stopping people as well. Look for them to be around deep in March into April.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Badgers, no one looked their way last season. No one saw the Badgers as a threat and no one surely thought they were Final Four material. After an impressive deep run in the NCAA tourney last season, everyone knows to watch out for the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin ended up losing to Kentucky in the Final Four but they held their own and played a great game. Placing #4 in the USA Coaches Poll, Wisconsin are preseason favorites to win the Big Ten and of course, make it to the Final Four again but this time, win. Their key player in the middle of this success and newfound hype? Frank Kaminsky. With a career high of 43 points against North Dakota in November 2013 and an impressive game of 28 points and 11 boards in the Elite 8 win over Arizona; he has the spotlight turned on Wisconsin. Kaminsky is not the only player that is getting ridiculous amount of attention. Sam Dekker is also going to be a key factor in Wisconsin's success this season. Dekker has made major improvements in the off-season. He is more aggressive and versatile, and could be very effective on the perimeter. The loss of Ben Brust is a big one for the Badgers. Brust set dimensions that will be difficult to replace but sophomores Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are working to fill that void. Wisconsin has a great wing player, a great point guard, and a great center, which makes them tough competition this season. The veteran backcourt featuring Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser give the Badgers the leadership they need. There are some pretty high expectations for this Wisconsin team, will they live up to the hype this season is the question.

Kansas

The Big 12 regular season title winners of the 2013-14 season are back to win it again and make the Final Four this time. Kansas Jayhawks lost in round 32 of the NCAA last season to Stanford. With Joel Embiid regulated to the bench due to an injury and Andrew Wiggins only putting up 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist, Kansas went home early. This season, the incoming of Cliff Alexander, the #3 recruit of 2014, and a talented Kelly Oubre gives Kansas back what they lost to the NBA Draft. Incoming freshman Cliff Alexander, a 6'9, 240 pound power forward, will be the key to KUs success this season. Kansas is known for producing and developing big guys and Alexander will have that chance to grow here. Alexander will need to be that force for Kansas in the interior defense and stop opponents from scoring. Kansas had a mediocre defense system last season, ranking 31st in the country. Returning player Perry Ellis will be on Alexander's side to help. The frontcourt of Ellis and Alexander could be a tough one to match. Ellis will have that leadership role to take on this season. Another arrival of a talented freshman that will help Kansas get where it needs to be in the Big 12 is Kelly Oubre. Oubre will not have the typical role of a freshman player. Oubre is a great defender, can finish at the rim and extend his range to the 3-point line. His game is like no other freshman of this class. Kansas could be potential season title winners again this season but they lack the experience they need compared to last season. Rounding out the top 5 in the USA Coaches poll this team still have a lot of changes to make this season. Alexander, Oubre, Ellis, Frank Mason, and Wayne Selden Jr. will all need to be better with effort in making these Kansas Jayhawks strong competitors for a spot in the Final Four.

North Carolina

The Belmont and UAB losses gave the North Carolina Tar Heels a shaky start in the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Great wins against Kentucky and Louisville gave them the hope they needed to continue the season winning against big teams. But a lost to Iowa State in the NCAA tournament last season only brought the hunger to win in these Tar Heels more aggressively. This season, The Tar Heels are back with a better team that can be compared to the 2009-10-championship team. Returnees Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks have what it takes to take this team to the next level. Paige tweeted out to the world that he had no thoughts of leaving North Carolina and his return undoubtedly made him the one of the country’s best point guards and a serious Player of the Year candidate for the 2014-15 preseason. Paige saved UNC many of times last season with his quickness to move the ball and the ability to make shots on the perimeter. Even with Paige being a great outside shooter, perimeter shooting could be concern this season with the loss Leslie McDonald. Nate Britt will have to step up and take more shots this season along with J.P. Tokoto who could improve his game offensively this season. Tar Heels arguably have one of the best frontcourts this season with Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Brice Johnson has gained muscle weight, which will give him the advantage to be more dominant in the paint. Johnson could be a potential starter this season with the loss of James Michael-McAdoo, which means his minutes, will increase and his percentage of blocks and rebounds this season will be higher than last season. Meeks has loss a great amount of weight and his new body will allow him to move and get up and down the court easier. North Carolina will be expecting great contributions from the incoming freshman this year. Theo Pinson, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson will see time on the court this season. Jackson makes up what UNC lacked last season in being a great wing scorer. Berry will have the chance to play alongside Paige and they could be a dangerous duo in the backcourt. North Carolina has the talent and experience to make a great run in the ACC and in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Making the top ten in the USA Today Coaches Poll, this UNC team is back better than ever.  

Florida

They swept the SEC conference title, won the SEC conference tournament, and made a deep run in the 2013-14 NCAA tourney to make it to the Final Four, the Florida Gators were indeed the most dangerous team to face last season. The Gators finished their regular season with an impressive winning streak and record of 36-3; they became the first team in league history to go unbeaten in an 18 game season. Falling to the eventual 2014 NCAA champions UConn Huskies in the Final Four, the Gators are back this season with the mindset to be that dominant team they were last season. Making the top ten in the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Gators are strong favorites to face off for the SEC title again and make another impressive run in the 2015 NCAA tournament. By losing their senior class last season, the roles for the players on the current roster will increase tremendously. The departure of Scottie Wilbekin will be a huge one to fill. Wilbekin provided that leadership and floor general role that made Florida the aggressive team it became known as. Bigger roles for Michael Frazier II and Kasey Hill are expected this season. Hill has to be able to become the leader for his team and be better in long stretches on the court. Hill is possibly the most important player in this Florida's team success. Frazier has to expand his game and also provide leadership. Due to academic ineligibility, Chris Walker only played two minutes in the loss to UConn but even then the contributions he gave were slightly impressive and it placed high expectations on him this season. Walker will see an increase on minutes this season and he will be a huge impact for the team. Patric Young’s role will also need to be filled. Maybe the Gators will look to the aforementioned Walker to fill that void. The Florida Gators roster is mostly made up of underclassmen this season but they are still a talented team and a dominant force in the SEC.

Louisville

Being the newcomers in the ACC, these Louisville Cardinals are going to be faced with new challenges the AAC didn’t present for them last season. With matchups against the ACC's best teams such as Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia, Louisville is looking to win the ACC in its first year and make it to the Final Four. With the return of Montrezl Harrell, his presence makes Louisville big competitors in the conference. Harrell is a solid and aggressive rebounder and has been expanding his game offensively by taking more jumpers in the offseason. Even with the loss of perimeter threats in Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, the Cards have more than enough perimeter options. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will make up the starting backcourt this season. Jones needs to get better with the basketball and has to stay out of foul trouble. Being ranked the #1 most important shooter for his team success, Rozier will have to take on bigger roles this season and be a leader off the court for the freshman. Wayne Blackshear named one of the team captains this season will also have to take up a bigger role. Blackshear will need to assert himself more and is challenged by Coach Rick Pinito to be more aggressive on the court. This Louisville team has good veterans but is not a veteran team. With the feel that the freshman are not mentally nor physically ready for this type of upper level basketball, Pinito has 7 players he feels he can depend on. With only a 7-man rotation, Louisville could lack in some areas. That could be a problem for them and an advantage to opponents.
               
   Iowa State

This 2014-2015 Iowa State team is one of the most intriguing teams in the country this season. They ranked in the top 15 in the USA Coaches Poll but that isn't what these Cyclones are focused on. Big disappointments came last season when Iowa State came first in the Big 12 but didn’t win the conference title. Using that as motivation, Iowa State is coming with two goals in mind; win the Big 12 and make Final Four. Losing their two leading scorers in DeAndre Kane and Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang will be looked upon to take over the scoring and leadership role. Iowa State has a deeper team than it did last season. Minutes will have to be divided up upon players and players may have to take on different roles such as Bryce Dejean-Jones may end up being more of a role player than a go-to scorer. We will also see how Monte Morris will pan out in his sophomore season. Many people were caught off guard by Iowa State's bright season last season. This will definitely be a team to watch out for in the Big 12 and in the tournament come March. .

Connecticut

The 2014 National Champs. The Connecticut Huskies shocked a lot in March and took back home another championship led guard Shabazz Naiper. The feeling is all too well known to the Huskies. They won the championship in 2011 led by another point guard, Kemba Walker. Now that pressure is on starting guard Ryan Boatwright to lead his team to another Final Four and championship run. Making the top 15 in the USA Coaches Poll, Connecticut are high favorites to win the AAC this season. We’ll have to see if Ryan Boatwright is ready for the responsibility that will come with being the key leader in winning another championship. But what's a leader without his team? With the loss of Naiper, Connecticut will need to develop new perimeter threats. Freshman Daniel Hamilton has an all-around game, Sam Cassell Jr could be an outside threat, and transfer Rodney Purvis will be able to add his contributions. Boatwright, Purvis, and Hamilton will probably be UCONNs main scoring threats this season. Being the unexpected team to win it all last season, the Huskies themselves expect to win it again.